Helping My Son With Lying

I had given my son $20 to go with friend to a water park for the day. When he came home he gave me $10 saying he’d used the rest for food. A few days later the friend’s mother called to ask about something and mentioned that she had sent all the money back with him. I told my son that I knew he hadn’t spent the money on food and did he keep it? He sheepishly nodded yes.

I didn’t want him to feel badly about himself but I did want him to be accountable. Right away I felt like I was floundering around, not knowing how to handle this properly. In my upbringing, shame and guilt would have been used to solve this issue. There would not have been any possible way to walk out of the situation with any sense of dignity. Both my husband and I worked together on this one. We sat down with our son on the couch as we talked to him about how important it is to be honest and that we wanted to be able to trust him. That we love him no matter what and that giving the money back would help clear out that yucky feeling inside. He went and got his wallet, gave us $10 and then ran to his room crying.

This is where I often struggle. I think, “Maybe he needs time by himself right now. Am I smothering him? Invading his space?” It goes on like that in my mind. I had to trust my gut, which told me, “I wouldn’t want to be alone if I felt that bad. I would want someone to follow me and let me know I was loved.”

I checked in with my husband, and we agreed that this was a good opportunity for him to get out a lot of stored up feelings he’d had about taking the money, and that we didn’t want him to have to keep carrying those around. The super good news about this is that in the past my husband has had a hard time when our son is having big feelings, especially when he can see that me being close to him makes the feelings come out stronger. In the past he has leaned on the side of “Leave him alone if he’s walking away. Don’t upset him even more.”

We followed him to his room, knocked, and asked if we could come in. “No!” “Well, can I stay outside the door?” “No!” “Well, how about five feet away?” “Okay.” So I sat down and let him know I’d be right there if he needed me and that I wasn’t going to leave him alone.

I couldn’t hear much going on inside. Occasionally it sounded like he was still crying. Of course I wanted to burst in and hold him and tell him, “Everything’s okay!” I hated that my “baby” was feeling so bad. But I was trying to allow him to feel in charge by respecting the distance he requested. Every once in a while I would remind him that I was there, and that I was sorry he was feeling so badly. Sometimes he’d tell me “Shut up!” or “I don’t care!” and I’d say I’m not leaving.

This went on for quite a while, until finally he opened the door and burst out, “That was my money you took and Ronnie said I could be his friend if I gave him that $10 and now you have my money so I don’t have it and that’s not fair!” and slammed the door. The tear floodgates opened (for me too).

It took at least 45 minutes of my husband and I taking turns listening for him to finally get that out. If we had left him alone when he had told us to, he easily could have tucked that story away and carried all that crummy stuff around: feeling bad that he’d lied about using the money for food, feeling bad that his friend had put him in a weird position, feeling bad that we thought he took it himself. You could see how that could easily “gunk up the system.”

He still had the door shut and we could hear him crying hard inside. We let him continue to cry, with gentle reminders of our love. I realized there could be an array of leftover feelings: “Did I betray my friend? Will he still be my friend?” I let him know we still love Ronnie and that we knew that he just got a little confused about money.

Before long he came out and wanted lots of snuggling. We talked about what he wanted to do about it, and had him practice with us what he wanted to say to his friend about getting the money back. I called the mom the next day and told her what happened and let her know there were no hard feelings. The boys got together and talked and the money was exchanged, and they played happily together after that.

I was so pleased that we were able to tackle the situation so well, as a team. I have no doubt that the extra attention my son got from having us both there allowed him to get to the hard stuff that he was trying so hard to hide. I was also pleased that we got to find out what was at the root of the issue for a change. So often it just looks like release of emotions and healing but I don’t know exactly what it was about. It was a big victory for our family and a step in the right direction.

Kirsten Nottleson-Join Certified Instructor Kirsten Nottleson in her next online Parenting by Connection Starter class.

7 thoughts on “Helping My Son With Lying”

  1. I stole from my stepfather when I was in my early teens. He had a money jar with coins. When I was caught, I was severely punished and dragged up the stairs and locked in my room. I remember wetting myself on the way up the stairs. It was awful.
    Anyway the reason that I was stealing the money was because I was being bullied at school to buy lollies for the other kids. They would be nice to me if I bought them stuff, when I stopped, the harassment started again.
    I was taken to confession, I was punished, I was lectured, I was humiliated. Guilt, shame, selfish, greedy – I’m sure you get the picture.
    I was never listened to. Noone ever cared why because they just jumped on the ‘morally wrong’ act of stealing and ‘oh how could I do such a thing to my parents’.
    I could do such a thing because my safety depended on it and the quality of my family relationships didn’t support hearing the truth.

    Thank you for a great article.

  2. Clare,
    Thank you for sharing your story with us.
    I am so sorry you had to endure that kind of treatment, as you struggled with how to handle the school situation. It would have made all the difference in the world if you would have had someone that you could go to to help you figure out what to do. I wish you had had that.
    So often when parents don’t get the support THEY need, they in turn are unable to listen to and support their children. That sounds like what happened with you.
    I hope that as you grew you learned that there was nothing selfish or greedy about you. That you were, and are, a completely wonderful human being, simply because you were born and that there is nothing you can do that could ever change that.
    When a person endures the kind of treatment that you described (I am guessing this was not an isolated incident), it can be hard to rememeber your complete goodness. Spending time in listening partnerships (as we do with the Parenting by Connection Approach) you get to have someone pay attention and show compassion to you, as you deserved as a child. Over time these listening partnerships can help to undo those hurtful messages that you received.
    I wish you much luck and am glad that you found us!!!
    Big hugs!!

  3. Dear Clare
    I’m so sorry to hear this happened to you and that there wasn’t anyone there to protect you from that experience. I want to reach out right now and thank you for all the hard work you’re doing to make things so different for your children.
    I appreciate the courage it took for you to share this experience. It is a very powerful example of how children always have a really good reason when their behavior is offtrack. I also want to celebrate that you are now safe enough to speak the truth.
    When we’re experienced hard times like that as children, it can be hard for us to reach out to our children with the warmth and respect this approach supports, so I warmly commend you on all the hard work you’ve done to get here.
    With a warm hug

  4. I really enjoyed this post. My son is our oldest child and has just entered the age where lying is an issue. My husband and I have been talking about how best to handle this and your story really reinforced for me the need to provide a supportive place for our son as he learns right from wrong.

  5. Dear Clare,
    I’m so very sorry that you were bullied at school and that you didn’t have the support you needed when you most needed it. And I’m so very sorry that you were shamed and humiliated after that when you tried to protect yourself. My heart goes out to you. Kudos to you for being brave enough to speak about it so openly. It is heart-breaking that so many people undergo bullying, don’t get the support they need, lie in order to stay safe, and then find themselves doubly humiliated and shamed and hurt when their actions are condemned by the very people from whom they need the most support and love. I wish you safe and peaceful times going forward.

    Dear Kirsten,
    Thanks for sharing this story. Your son is one lucky kid to have a mom like you!


  6. Glad it was helpful. And thank you for having those conversations with your husband about how best to support you growing son. Keep up the good work! He’s a lucky boy to have such a thoughtful team backing him!

  7. Joe Ringlehan

    Thanks for sharing this. What a brilliant experience for all. I loved that you stayed outside the room, but let him know you were there on occasion. Had you not said anything he wouldn’t have known. Having the support of your husband says such wonderful things about your relationship and the trust he places in you, even if he’s not quite sure about the process. The fact that you could step back and remember that it was not about you, but about him and his struggles to make his way through the world AND that you were not only able to support him, but his friend and his friend’s family as well,is humbling. Reading these kinds of stories gives me such hope for the world. Thank you!

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